Banteay Meanchey provincial authorities on Sunday night intercepted a haul of nearly 700 tortoises and water monitor lizards imported from Thailand.
Chab Sopharith, Banteay Meanchey provincial deputy police chief, said the operation was carried out on National Road 59, in the province’s Malai commune. A driver was arrested but later released when it was ascertained that he was not involved in the case.
“We have one suspect, but investigations are ongoing so we cannot comment further,” Sopharith said.
Sin Oeu Nabot, a deputy at Banteay Meanchey Provincial Forestry Administration, said he had received 618 tortoises, of which 19 had died, while 50 of the 70 seized water monitor lizards survived. He said the animals would be released with permission from the Banteay Meanchey provincial governor.
“We lack suitable facilities as we were not established to impound wild animals. But we have no problems caring for them,” Oeu Nabot said.
Sopharith said he couldn’t comment on local media reports as the case was under investigation. He said that like the drugs trade, wildlife crimes were difficult to investigate. “Wildlife trafficking is hard to intercept as the criminals involved, like drug traffickers, are well organised,” he said.
Sopharith said that although the latest haul is the biggest for the year thus far, a larger shipment of tortoises was intercepted last year, also from Thailand. Sopharith said Phnom Penh was the Kingdom’s biggest market for wild animals as demand in the provinces is not as great.